Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder Announce New Efforts to Address the Needs of Confined Youth

Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder meet with the members of the Federal Reentry Council in Washington, D.C. to discuss efforts to improve education and employment outcomes among persons reentering communities following incarceration. (Photo credit: Department of Justice)

Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder meet with the members of the Federal Reentry Council in Washington, D.C. to discuss efforts to improve education and employment outcomes among persons reentering communities following incarceration. (Photo credit: Department of Justice)

This past March, staff from our respective Departments met at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to hear from a group of seven formerly incarcerated youth. This amazing group – most of them now over the age of 18 – shared their experiences with the juvenile justice system.

No two stories were the same. Some youth shared that they received no educational services at all, not even books to read, during their time in the facility. While several youth had been identified for disabilities before they were incarcerated, many did not receive services aligned with their individualized education programs. Among the students who did receive instruction, the courses available did not provide credits toward a high school diploma.

We are grateful to these youth for their resilience, leadership, and bravery as they speak out about their experiences. It is time that we match our gratitude with a new commitment to reform, to ensure that every child placed in a facility has access to high-quality education services and the supports they need to successfully reenter their schools and communities.

Today, leaders from 22 agencies joined us for a Federal Interagency Reentry Council meeting to discuss actions to reduce reentry barriers to employment, health, housing, and education for individuals who are transitioning from incarceration to community.  The meeting comes on the heels of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force Report, submitted to President Obama last week, which recommends new action to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by too many youth, particularly boys and young men of color, and ensure that all young people who are willing to do the hard work to get ahead can reach their full potential, including new efforts to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education.

In keeping with that recommendation, we announced to our federal partners that we sent a letter to each state school superintendent, and each state attorney general. The letter highlights the importance of supporting youth in facilities, describes how federal dollars can fund improved services, and signals our coming work to clarify the components of high-quality correctional education services.

This step continues recent work by federal agencies to support incarcerated youth in juvenile justice facilities. We’ve funded model demonstration projects for students with disabilities returning from juvenile facilities and commissioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences to better understand the developmental needs of incarcerated youth.  Moving forward, our departments will invest in a joint initiative to design an evidence-based education model for returning youth and to support demonstration projects in selected jurisdictions.

Our work builds upon the recent groundswell of state and local efforts, as well as private initiatives and investments in research, dedicated to strengthening services for incarcerated youth.  Last year, we were amazed by the efforts at Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings Youth Development Center to provide all youth with access to English, Math, Social Studies, and Science classes aligned with the standards of the District of Columbia’s Public Schools. During our visit to the facility, students were reading Night, by Elie Wiesel.

Maya Angelou Academy has set the bar higher for our youth in juvenile justice, and others are doing the same.

States such as Oregon, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are increasing access to technology as one strategy for connecting youth in juvenile facilities with academic content comparable to their peers in traditional schools.

Thanks to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, we now have consensus among researchers, practitioners, and advocates – from the fields of education, health, juvenile justice, and law enforcement – regarding the necessary steps to keep youth in school, prevent their entry into the justice system, and ensure that youth in facilities get the supports and services they need.

Plenty of work remains. Too many places still exist where youth in facilities do not have access to quality education services, or worse, receive no services at all. We know that there is often confusion among education and justice officials about who is responsible for students’ education once they are placed in a juvenile detention setting.  But we are heartened by the work of the Council of State Governments, the National Academy of Sciences, and others – an effort that represents growing national agreement that we have a collective responsibility to support, nurture, and prepare juvenile justice-involved youth.

That’s why we spoke up in a recent federal lawsuit in support of incarcerated youth with disabilities who alleged that they were placed in solitary confinement for 22 hours or more per day, discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and denied their right to a free and appropriate public education.

As noted in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report – when young people come into contact with the juvenile or criminal justice systems, these interactions should not put them off track for life. The President has set a goal that, by 2020, our nation will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world and that all Americans complete at least one year or more of college or career training. We must ensure that our youth in correctional facilities can play their part in achieving that vision.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education and Eric Holder is U.S. Attorney General.

Working with Community Leaders to Improve Educational Outcomes for AANHPI Students

Arne AAPI

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who chairs the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, meets with community leaders from across the country to discuss educational challenges among AANHPI students. (by Bernadette Rietz)

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time for us to celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) and their contributions to this great nation. This year’s theme for the month is “I am Beyond,” which captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.

As chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it is important that I hear directly from AANHPI leaders who work with our students and their families every day. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with community leaders who came from as far as Guam and Hawaii to discuss important issues that face AANHPI students around the country and in the Insular Areas. I was honored to have many key leaders at the Department of Education who have made working with AAPI populations a critical part of their work.

I heard important updates and requests on data disaggregation, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), bullying and harassment, English Language Learners, boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and native languages and culture-based education. Leaders emphasized that aggregated AANHPI data mask critical issues such as the alarmingly low college graduation rates for Southeast Asian Americans (12 percent of Laotian, 14 percent of Cambodian, and 26 percent of Vietnamese American populations) and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders at 14.8 percent. I also heard about the high rates of bullying and harassment in these communities and that the Department could be helpful by helping raise awareness of AANAPISIs as Minority-Serving Institutions.

Knowing how important these issues are, I committed to continuing the conversations beyond this roundtable discussion, to explain our position on many issues, and to learn from the community on how the Department can improve our efforts to ensure equity for all. Members of the Education team will continue to meet with the AAPI community in the upcoming weeks and months to work on these issues, and I look forward to an update at the end of the year.

With the support of the Initiative, we have made progress on many of these issues, but we have more work ahead as we strive to improve educational experiences for AANHPI students.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The Great Society, 50 Years Later

LBJFifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson gave a commencement speech that changed the relationship between our country and its people. In that speech, he offered a vision of a “Great Society,” and in few places has the mark of his vision remained stronger than in education.

Johnson, who himself had struggled to afford school to become a teacher, had a finely tuned sense of human potential, of justice, and of what was possible with hard work and a good education. In his speech at the University of Michigan, he asked America to see the powerful connection between educational opportunity and the nation’s economic and moral health. And he asked us to recognize that it was within our power, collectively, to change outcomes, to ensure decent opportunity for every child. Indeed, he knew our future depended on our seeing that truth.

He said:

Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.

Today, eight million adult Americans, more than the entire population of Michigan, have not finished five years of school. Nearly 20 million have not finished eight years of school. Nearly 54 million — more than one-quarter of all America — have not even finished high school.

Each year more than 100,000 high school graduates with proved ability do not enter college because they cannot afford it. And if we cannot educate today’s youth, what will we do in 1970 when elementary school enrollment will be five million greater than 1960?

… Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty.

By some measures, we are far closer to the country Johnson knew we could become. As he noted, a quarter of this country hadn’t completed high school at the time of his speech; now, that figure is less than a tenth. Thanks in large part to federal grants and loans, college is a reality for millions of students who could not attend otherwise.

Perhaps just as important, we now have far greater proof of Johnson’s belief that education can change life trajectories, and far greater understanding of what it takes to make that opportunity possible.

Yet, as I arrive to work each day at the Department of Education — itself a descendant of his vision for a more equitable society, housed in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building — I recognize that poverty and other circumstances of one’s birth, far too often, remain “a bar to learning.” And the need for education is, frankly, greater today than it was half a century ago. Today, paths to a good life without a good education have essentially vanished. Yet at every level, poverty and race are still far too closely tied to educational opportunity and educational success. From course offerings to suspension and expulsion rates to college enrollment and graduation, we are not yet the equitable society Johnson knew we were capable of becoming.

In another commencement speech Johnson gave, at Howard University in 1965, he said, “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity—all our must citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”

Those words rang true five decades ago, and they ring true today.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education 

Progress and Challenges 60 Years After Brown v. Board

Anniversaries that commemorate milestones in our nation’s history give us the opportunity to reflect and also to look ahead. For me, this week provides such a moment, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansaswhich struck down Jim Crow segregation in our public schools.

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Has our country made progress since the 1950s? Absolutely. Nationally, our high school graduation rate is the highest ever, boosted especially by increases for black and Latino students. In our larger cities, where low-income families and students of color are concentrated, growth in student achievement is outpacing the rest of the country. And at America’s colleges and universities, non-white students now represent 40 percent of enrollment—more than double their proportion in 1980, shortly after the U.S. Department of Education opened with a mission to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.

As someone born a decade after the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board, I wish I could say that I can only imagine what a segregated school looked like. But in the 50 states and more than 300 schools I have visited as Secretary of Education, far too often I see lingering opportunity gaps, in communities isolated by race and income.

Brown outlawed the notion of “separate but equal” schooling or legal segregation, but it did not stop de facto segregation. Many school districts today are intensely segregated–as much as they have been at any time since after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many school districts that were desegregating in the 1960s and 1970s have since resegregated. And within metropolitan areas, educational opportunity and diversity can vary widely among dozens of urban and suburban school districts within a short drive of each other.

Today, about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, and white students are similarly isolated from their peers of color—only 14 percent of white students attend schools that you could consider multicultural.

By another measure — the roughly 10,000 complaints that my department’s Office for Civil Rights receives each year — inexcusable discrimination continues in too many places. Last year we resolved a case in an Alabama county where the predominately black high school did not offer the same level of challenging college prep courses as the district’s mostly white high school, which offered an array of Advanced Placement classes. In other places, harassment of students, teachers and school administrators has involved the use of Ku Klux Klan robes, nooses, and racist epithets.

Those are anecdotal instances of blatant discrimination and inequity in schools, and fortunately they are rare. Still, new civil rights data from all U.S. schools shows that as early as preschool, black students are disproportionately suspended and expelled. Students of color continue to attend schools that are disproportionately staffed by inexperienced teachers, with fewer resources and opportunities. These schools are commonly among the lowest-performing in their state.

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In May 1954, the Supreme Court concluded that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ had no place in U.S. public education. In May of the following year, the Justices handed down a plan for how schools were to proceed with desegregation. (Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

As the most flagrant examples of race discrimination have declined, new examples of discrimination and inequity have emerged. Cases involving mistreatment of LGBT students and immigrants learning English are all too common. And earlier this year, our civil rights office stepped in to end the practice in a New York school district of systemically reducing the grades of students simply because of their disabilities. So, if your child who needed accommodations due to his difficulty with reading got an A+ on his math test, that accomplishment got knocked down to a demoralizing D. What parent would be OK with that?

As a father, I want my children to attend school in a place that looks like where they will one day work, a school that reflects the diversity of the country in which they were fortunate to be born. Today’s de facto segregation denies students the many benefits that come from diversity, including the opportunity to learn from students of different backgrounds and prepare for the mix of viewpoints, abilities and global cultures they will encounter in their careers.

I reject the notion that we can’t reduce or eliminate the opportunity gaps that we see today. There are big things we can do, and there are big things we are doing now at the federal level.

Nearly every major policy initiative that the Obama Administration has advanced in education aims to improve outcomes for underserved students—from partnering with states to expand preschool programs to raising expectations for all students, ensuring quality teaching in every classroom, expanding the opportunities of technology through broadband, turning around chronically low-performing schools and expanding Pell Grants to pay for college. For the upcoming year, we are proposing a new program called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity, which would help states and districts close opportunity gaps and support teachers, leaders and students in high-need communities.

In 1954, Brown v. Board may have seemed like the end of a long struggle for educational equality. In fact, it was the beginning. We face a lot of challenges today in our communities, our country and on our planet. To solve the big problems we need everyone to be able to work together. No one’s talent can go to waste.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

For teaching and learning resources about this landmark court case, head here.

Reach Higher for College

It’s easy to talk about the importance of college. But some folks really walk the walk.

I had the thrilling opportunity to meet some of them a few years ago, when I joined the college signing day at YES Prep in Houston, Texas. As I told the audience that day, I was moved nearly to tears as students announced their college plans to a cheering stadium, and signed letters committing to their college. It was the kind of unbridled enthusiasm we usually reserve for sporting events — and yet it was also like a family reunion. It was overwhelming.

Today, first lady Michelle Obama will take that experience to a whole new level when she gives a name to her college access initiative, Reach Higher, at the culmination of a city-wide college celebration in San Antonio, Texas. All week, the entire city has been focused on the vital importance of getting a college degree. Today, the first lady will witness an auditorium full of high school seniors committing to entering and completing college.

Their embrace of that goal is part of changing our country’s future. A generation ago, our young people were first in the world in their college completion rate — but now we are 12th in the world. President Obama has set a goal of reclaiming our world leadership.

And we are seeing some really important progress. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of announcing our new cohort high school graduation rate, which at 80 percent is the highest in US history. And last month, we learned that attainment of college degrees last year saw its biggest rise since 2008.

These improvements are badly needed and long in coming. African-American, Latino and low-income students have helped to drive many recent increases in high school graduation and college-going — but they still don’t have the same opportunities, or the same success rates, as many other students. The need for equitable opportunities has always been pressing — but is even more so as we project that this fall, America’s public school students will for the first time be mostly nonwhite. We are working hard to ensure stronger opportunities — but we have a long way to go.

And college matters in a way that it never has before — because without some postsecondary education, there are very few opportunities in today’s knowledge-based economy.

The first lady understands this at her core. Fighting for and committing to getting a great education isn’t some intellectual exercise for the first lady. She lived this experience on Chicago’s South Side. Her parents didn’t have a college education, but they pushed her and her brother Craig to work hard in high school and concentrate on getting a college degree. She pushed herself to study as hard as possible — benefiting from the encouragement of those who supported her, and pushing past the doubts of those who didn’t. So when students hear from her, when she tells her own story of perseverance in high school, in college, in law school — they listen. Because they understand that she’s not that different from any of them. All those struggles, whether it was picking classes, navigating student loans, or even just knowing the right sized sheets to bring that first day of college — she’s faced them, persevered, and been successful thanks to getting a great education. And she wants to make sure others understand how to navigate that path.

So I feel really lucky to have her as a better partner to inspire students across the country and push them to reach higher and commit to postsecondary education. In San Antonio, she won’t just be celebrating the importance of the college-going culture in one city, but the college-going culture she’s trying to create across the country. Her story, her candor, and her energy ensure that young people across this country will reach higher — and will achieve more.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

What I’ve Learned in 50 States

US Photo Collage“The best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C.” I’ve used that phrase in a lot of speeches and conversations during the past five years, and I repeat it because it’s true. Earlier this month in Hawaii, I visited two schools and talked with military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam about college and career ready standards. The stop in Hawaii marked my 50th state that I’ve visited since being Secretary, and the visit once again reinforced the importance of listening to what matters most at the local level.

During the past five years, whether my visit was to a conference, a community center, a business, an early childhood center, a university, or one of the more than 340 schools I’ve stopped by, I’ve come away with new insight and knowledge into the challenges local communities face, and the creative ways people are addressing them. I know that in order to do this job well, it’s vital to never stop listening, especially to those in the classroom each day.

Across the country I’ve witnessed courage in action. States and districts are raising standards and expectations for students, and teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. And thanks to the hard work of parents, community members, educators, and students themselves, the high school graduation rate is now the highest on record.

Many of the states I’ve visited have brought unexpected surprises. At YES College Prep in Houston, the spirit of the student body moved me as it gathered for its annual College Signing Day. In Columbus, N.M., I saw the conviction and dedication of educators as they grapple with providing a quality education to more than 400 students who cross the U.S.-Mexico border each morning. And in Joplin, Mo., I witnessed a community working together to ensure students continued their education after a tornado destroyed the high school and killed many of their family members.

As I travelled the country, I saw places that inspired me, and others that left me angry, or heartbroken. I’ve visited schools where education funding is too low, and the buildings are in need of desperate repair. I’ve been to neighborhoods where poverty and crime present unique challenges to educators and administrators. I’ve listened to students talk openly about not feeling challenged or inspired. And when I met with grieving parents from Newtown, Conn., I once again saw how devastating gun violence can be for our children and communities.

We must continue to invest at every level of our educational system, from preschool to higher ed. We must fight for our children’s right to grow up safe, free of fear, in schools and communities that cherish and nurture them.

After 50 states, and visits in urban centers, remote rural schools and tribal communities, I am more optimistic than ever. I’m optimistic because of the educators I’ve met, because of the parents and community leaders that rally for great education, and because students everywhere demonstrate their deep conviction that working hard and getting a great education will transform their life chances. They come to school every day because they feel safe, they feel engaged, and they feel loved and valued by their teachers.

America’s public schools embody our American values of creativity, industry and ingenuity, and from Hawaii to Maine, I am fortunate to have learned this firsthand.

Check out the interactive map below, which includes visits to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Click here to see a larger version.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Listening and Learning at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

ISTP 2014

Delegations from high-performing education systems across the globe gathered for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New Zealand.

At the end of March, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and I joined delegations from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems across the globe for the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Whether large or small, highly decentralized or not, countries share a common desire to create a high-quality education system that prepares all children for success in their personal and professional lives. The summits provide a unique opportunity for education ministers and teacher leaders to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and look for ways to replicate or adapt back home what other countries are doing well.

New Zealand welcomed us with a powhiri, the traditional Maori ceremony, which is something most of the international guests and I had never seen. It was a beautiful and moving welcome and I was honored, as the host of the first summit in 2011, to accept the New Zealand challenge for a successful 4th summit on behalf of the international community. Many thanks to New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her team for being gracious hosts during the summit.

This year’s summit focused on Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness. There was complete agreement that where you live or what your parents do for a living should not determine your access to a quality education. We need to invest in education to close opportunity gaps that exist for too many children and create learning environments that allow all children to thrive. Using PISA 2012 data, OECD showed that there’s a false choice between equity and excellence: education systems as diverse as Korea and Canada can, and do, achieve both.

Maori Welcome

The International delegations began the summit in New Zealand with an official Maori welcome ceremony.

The countries represented at the summit stressed strong support for early interventions to help children start school healthy and ready to learn—one minister even suggested early learning as the focus of the next summit. Many of the countries around the table, including our New Zealand hosts, have a stronger commitment to early childhood education than we do in the U.S. Young children in New Zealand can receive 20 hours of free early learning opportunities each week. Data show that 95 percent of New Zealand children have had some early childhood education when they start school. The U.S. rate of 65 percent pales in comparison.  

During the summit, we also talked a lot about teacher leadership and collaboration. For example, Canada involves teachers in making and implementing policy. Representatives from Singapore talked about the importance of consultation and feedback, as well as the country’s three career tracks, which provide different options for teachers’ career progression. New Zealand discussed its proposed program to create new roles and pathways, while Hong Kong mentioned a new school leadership program. These interventions and many others confirmed to me that our new Teach to Lead (T2L) initiative and our ongoing labor-management collaboration mirror what high-performing systems are doing.

I came away from the summit discussions with a renewed energy and commitment to early learning teacher leadership and collaboration, and to continuing the challenging work of education improvement. The U.S. delegation committed publicly to:

  • Continue to work to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities,
  • Increase opportunities for teacher leadership,
  • And, support labor-management collaboration to increase learning for all students.

Dennis, Randi, Chris and I are already moving ahead on our commitments and will report back on our progress to the international community next year at the 5th summit in Alberta, Canada.  Little did we know three years ago, when we hosted the first international summit, that it would become an international community of practice dedicated to enhancing the teaching profession to improve learning for all students. Now, let’s get to work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Equal Pay Day 2014

Women make up half of the U.S. workforce and yet often, they are paid less than men for doing the same job. Today, April 8, marks an important day for highlighting these unfair disparities:  National Equal Pay Day.

Our nation has made great progress in expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but business, industry, labor, and government at all levels still have so much work to do to ensure that every American, regardless of their gender, is treated fairly and gets equal pay for equal work.

From the first day he took office, President Obama has been a staunch advocate for fair treatment in the workplace and equal pay. The first piece of legislation the President signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for women to challenge their employers in court if they weren’t paid the same salary as men doing the same job. Shortly afterwards, the President created the National Equal Pay Task Force to crackdown on violations of equal pay laws. He called on various agencies to help support this work, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Education has joined this effort with our federal partners to ensure that the programs and grants we are responsible for can better support women, and narrow or eliminate gender opportunity gaps in education. At ED, we are improving support for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We are creating pathways to good jobs and careers through high-quality career and technical education (CTE). We are making higher education more affordable, and expanding pathways to postsecondary education for adult learners, workers looking to retrain for new careers, and young people seeking careers that require technical education.

In adult education, recent data has shown that there are gender disparities in skill levels for literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. The new data and evidence of disparities prompted the Department to hold a series of roundtables and engage various equity organizations who work directly with young girls and women. We explored promising models of how to better align local, state, and federal resources when addressing skill issues. And in coming months, ED will be releasing a National Action Plan to help guide our work with respect to low-skilled adults, especially as it relates to gaps in gender equity.

One of the most important—and often overlooked—tools for narrowing gender pay gaps in the United States is Title IX, signed into law in 1972. Title IX bars educational institutions from discriminating against a person on the basis of their sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Title IX proved to be one of the great unsung success stories in education. It is best known as the law that required equal access to athletics for male and female students in secondary schools and colleges. But ultimately, Title IX dramatically increased employment for women by increasing access not just to athletics but to college itself and subsequent job opportunities.

Just as the benefit of athletics stretched far beyond the playing field for men, Title IX proved that the same benefits held true in the case of women and girls. Women athletes are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don’t play sports. They are less likely to use drugs, get pregnant as teenagers, or become obese.

In fact, one rigorous study by Betsey Stevenson—now a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers—found that up to 40 percent of the overall rise in employment among women in the 25 to 34-year old age group since 1972 was attributable to Title IX. Girls and women who benefitted from Title IX had wages that were eight percent higher than their peers–and also were more likely to work in high-skill, previously male-dominated occupations.

As the President has said, equal pay is not just a women’s issue but a family issue. When the number of women in the workforce expands rapidly, their role as breadwinners expands rapidly too. And when women aren’t paid and treated fairly, their families suffer.

That’s one reason President Obama’s groundbreaking 2013 Preschool for All proposal is so important. It would enable states to provide an additional one million four-year-olds with high-quality preschool.

The benefits of high-quality early learning for young children are clear—and their mothers and families benefit as well. Child care expenses for families with working mothers range from 20 percent to nearly 50 percent of a working mom’s salary. Sadly, that steep price tag leads too many mothers to put off pursuing their own educational and career goals.

Our task is to make sure we are always working to narrow and eliminate unfair opportunity gaps. On June 23, President Obama is convening the first-ever White House Working Families Summit.

In the months beforehand, the Administration will build on the momentum of Equal Pay Day, and engage business leaders, advocates, policymakers, and educators to explore how we can better address issues affecting all working families—especially those pertaining to equity for women.

On equal pay, it’s time not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. As a nation, we’re on that journey now. But we still have a long way to go to meet the gender-blind American ideal of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Today: The First-Ever White House Student Film Festival

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The very best person to talk to about how modern technology is changing our classrooms isn’t me, or even the President.

It’s a student who is actually learning from those tools every day — accessing school assignments online, watching online video lessons to learn a new concept, or even talking directly with other students around the world with new technology.

That’s why, a few months ago, the White House challenged students all across the country to create short films answering a simple question:

Why is technology so important in the classroom — and how will it change the educational experience for kids in the future?

The response was overwhelming. And today, the 16 official selections are going to be screened at the first-ever White House Student Film Festival.

You’re going to want to tune in for this one. Watch the official selections, then tune in today at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Today’s going to be a fun day, but this event speaks to something much bigger.

That’s because these students’ films all illustrate the critical conversation about education in our country right now: the importance of connecting our classrooms.

The fact is that right now, only around 30% of our students have the high-speed Internet access they need for digital learning. That means millions of kids across the country aren’t currently benefiting from the kinds of technologies that made the student films you’ll watch today possible.

The President’s ConnectED initiative is making sure that changes — by connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation, high-speed broadband within five years.

Want to see exactly why that’s so important? Just take a look at some of the incredible things kids can produce when they’re connected.

See the official film festival selections, then make sure you’re watching the event at 2:30 p.m. ET today.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

The Case for College Signing Days

On May 2, students in San Antonio, Texas will take part in an event that costs practically nothing, benefits the future of many, and brings joy to all. Schools everywhere would do well to take note, and consider doing likewise.

On that day, San Antonio will host its annual College Signing Day. More than 4,000 students will pack the University of Texas San Antonio Convocation Center, where they’ll sit according to their postsecondary school of choice, enjoying a bright spotlight on their college plans.

Younger students in San Antonio will no doubt take notice – because they’ll be participating in a week-long series of activities promoting college and career readiness at their middle and elementary schools.

It’s a simple and inexpensive way to celebrate our students, their accomplishments, and their futures.

As the President has made clear, the future of individual young people and of the economy as a whole depends on increasing the numbers of students who attend, and complete, college and other post-secondary training. A joyful event that helps to build a college-going culture can be part of that.

That’s why every district in America should consider having a College Signing Day to honor students who continue their education beyond high school. It’s something I wish I’d done during my time as CEO of Chicago Public Schools – and something that’s touched me emotionally when I’ve witnessed it.

Rural Berea, Kentucky is among the places showing the way. There, 150 students will celebrate their enrollment in two- and four-year colleges and universities this spring. On April 26, seniors will be joined by representatives from the colleges they will attend across Kentucky.

In 2010, I had the opportunity to be a part of YES College Prep’s College Signing Day in Houston. In the crowd of over 5,000 people, I was moved by the spirit that filled the room – a spirit that celebrated hard-fought accomplishments, and anticipated fulfilling futures. In that crowd, I saw hope for both individual students, and for our nation.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

The effects of College Signing Day last longer than a two-hour assembly. The event can shift the focus of an entire student body from high school graduation to postsecondary commencement. It shows younger students that they can aspire to more than athletic greatness: they can be great academically, too. It shows them that academic excellence is just as worthy of cheers, shouts, and photo ops as athletic prowess.

President Obama offered a similar message in his recent State of the Union address when he celebrated first-generation college student Estiven Rodriguez, a high school senior bound for Dickinson College in the fall. Estiven – who accompanied the First Lady to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address – spoke no English when he arrived in America at age 9.

But Estiven didn’t rest on his accomplishments – instead, he chose to pay it forward, helping his peers at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning Schools (WHEELS) with their postsecondary aspirations.

In December, he did something that touched his school, his community, and ultimately, his country. As the President said, “he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.” The teens, wearing WHEELS sweatshirts and holding a banner, served as an example that few could forget.

All students overcome challenges – whether they’re language barriers or tough homework assignments – to graduate high school and gain admission to college. Hosting a College Signing Day is an easy way for schools to embrace these challenges, and the students who overcame them.

In today’s knowledge-based, global economy, a postsecondary degree or certificate is more important than ever. The first step for students, and for our nation, is college acceptance.

This year, let’s celebrate that first step – and all the steps to come.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Why I Wear 80

Graduation CapsWhen I take the court tonight for the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, I’ll be wearing a number that signifies some great news – thanks to the hard work of our nation’s students, parents, and educators.

The number I’ll wear – 80 – is rarely seen on a basketball jersey – but represents a record in education.

That number – 80 percent — is the newly announced high school graduation rate, the highest in American history. Never before have 4 out of 5 American students completed high school. We have further to go, but this is a moment to celebrate the hard work of our educators.

Often in sports, but rarely in education, do you hear about the heroes whose skill, hard work, creativity and tenacity resulted in an achievement the whole country should know about. We should all take heart from the passionate, caring work being done in classrooms, schools, and communities across the country.

Who’s to credit for this progress? Here, as elsewhere, you can be sure that the best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C. The best ideas come from teachers, principals, superintendents, and other educators who are determined to see their students succeed.

These ideas come from communities like Seattle, Wash., where Grover Cleveland High School was struggling just a few years ago. But Cleveland’s educators and students wouldn’t let the school fail.

photolockerWith federal grant funds and other reform dollars, Cleveland transformed from a traditional neighborhood high school to one that emphasized project-based learning, connected students with mentors in the surrounding community, and offered internships in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. School leaders and staff met every week and included parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach to learning.

Cleveland seized the opportunity to innovate, and it worked. The school’s four-year-graduation rate rose from 60.5% in 2011 to 75% in 2013.  And in 2013, Cleveland was named a Washington State School of Distinction.

Elsewhere, in Tennessee and the District of Columbia, state and local leaders looked honestly at student underperformance – and did something about it. They raised standards, strengthened classroom instruction, and revamped systems for teacher support and evaluation.

At Cleveland – and at schools in states from Ohio to Texas – change was, and is, hard. It takes tenacity, compassion, and courage from both students and educators.

The 80 percent number – the graduation rate for the class of 2011* — represents not only the collective progress we’ve made as a nation, but individually as communities, schools, students, and families.

But I see 80 percent as a starting point. We have so much further to go – for the one in five students who don’t graduate; for the many who graduate less than fully prepared for college; and for the groups of students that, despite recent progress, are achieving and graduating at lower rates. The potential of American students is limitless – it’s on our schools, families and communities to help them achieve at higher levels.

All students should have the opportunity to achieve in high school and thrive in whatever career or college they pursue. We owe 100 percent of our students that chance.

Today, I’ll celebrate where we are, and recognize where we need to go.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

*2010-2011 Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate

Celebrating CTE Month

Aviation_High

Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan visit with Aviation High School students during a visit to the CTE-focused school in 2013. February is CTE Month.

In his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama called on the nation to make 2014 a year of action. He laid out a clear vision for promoting equality of opportunity and challenged everyone to go all-in on the innovations that will help this country maintain its edge in the global economy. “Here in America,” said the president, “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our forebears here.  … Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” The president also put heavy emphasis on career and technical education and training that prepares young people for work. “We’re working to redesign high schools,” he said, “and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.”

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month—a great opportunity to acknowledge the important contribution CTE is making to individual citizens, our economy, and our nation. Every year, during this month, we recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the many students who are pursuing their ambitions through CTE pathways. We also thank all those working tirelessly so that more students can find their life’s passion and reach their full potential. Each day, thousands of teachers, school and district administrators, state education officials, career and technical student organization leaders, business and labor leaders, parents, and others are helping to equip students with the academic knowledge—as well as the technical and employability skills—they need to find productive careers and lead fulfilling lives.

Today’s CTE students and educators face a more difficult challenge than those of earlier generations, when a high school diploma and the skills it represented were enough to secure a place in the middle class. Those low-skilled, well-paid jobs are gone, and they won’t return. By working together, those at the local, state, and national levels are making significant progress in improving the rigor and relevance of CTE programs all across America.

In the 21st century, we need to prepare all students to succeed in a competitive global economy, a knowledge-based society, and a hyper-connected digital world. All students must be lifelong learners, able to re-skill frequently over the course of their careers, in order to meet the changing demands of the workplace and the marketplace. They’ll need the flexibility and ingenuity to thrive in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! Teaching and learning must change, in part, because the very nature of work has changed. President Obama’s North Star goal in education is for every student to graduate from high school and obtain some form of postsecondary training or degree.

High-quality CTE is absolutely critical to meeting this challenge. Inspiring CTE teachers and effective curricula are essential to ensuring that students can master the new realities and seize the amazing new opportunities that await them.

The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies. In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.

CTE programs provide instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant. Many of them are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields – where so many good jobs are waiting.

In visiting CTE programs across the country, I’ve seen many excellent examples of partnerships that are providing great skills and bright futures for students. Our challenge is to replicate these successful programs so they become the norm—especially in communities that serve our most disadvantaged students. This administration’s goal is to prepare students to excel in college, in long-term occupational skills training, in registered apprenticeships, and in employment.

The president’s 2014 budget proposal includes both continuing and new funding to support this agenda. In addition to refunding the Perkins Act at roughly $1 billion, the Department of Labor will complete providing approximately $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Act funds over four years for CTE partnerships led by the nation’s community colleges. And, in November, the president announced a new $100 million initiative between the departments of Labor and Education to fund Youth CareerConnect grants.

Youth CareerConnect will encourage school districts, higher education institutions, the workforce investment system, and other partners to scale up evidence-based models that transform the U.S. high school experience. Best of all, with this grant program, we can plan on making awards early this year.

In celebrating CTE month, we celebrate all the partners—students, parents, business, union and community leaders, educators all through the pipeline, and many more—who are helping to transform CTE and achieve our shared vision of educational excellence and opportunity for all students. At the Department of Education, we’re proud to be your partner.

Together, we can make the year ahead a time of bold, smart, far-reaching action.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education